Dear Faculty, Staff, Student and Alumni Leaders,
A year ago, this annual mid-summer newsletter was sent in the afterglow of the announcement of a transformational gift to support our new Holleran Center for Community Engagement. Just a year later, Carolyn and Jerry Holleran have again made a generous gift to the University by providing their historic Cedar Hill Farm as a president's house and conference/retreat center, along with a generous endowment to cover operating and maintenance costs. Since they are building a new house, the exact timing of the transfer is uncertain, but we are hopeful that the property will be ready for university gatherings next spring.
As important as is this gift, equally significant is the Hollerans' motivation: they have great confidence in the future of Alvernia, appreciation for our leadership role in civic engagement and community-based learning, and enthusiasm for our vision to be a "Distinctive Franciscan University." Certainly, our prestigious recognition by the Carnegie Foundation as a national leader in community engagement and our achievement of university status have been highlights of our 50th anniversary year. We have much to celebrate and appreciate as we commence a new academic year.
For a few more weeks until July 31, we all have the extraordinary opportunity to appreciate the Blessing Exhibit, a remarkable (and free) historical production which, as of July 4, had already attracted over 2,000 visitors, among them many Jewish and Catholic groups. We have also been fortunate to host over two dozen donors and potential friends of the University, all of whom have been deeply moved by the exhibit and impressed (and a bit amazed) that a relatively small school such as Alvernia has proven to be such a successful venue. All are welcome to visit at regular hours, though it is far preferable to be guided by one of the many trained docents. A docent is there daily at 2:00 pm. Faculty and staff will have a special time on July 21st at 4:00 p.m. to tour the exhibit. A closing interfaith service will be held on Tuesday, July 28, at 4:30 with a reception and exhibit tours afterwards. All are invited to participate.
As usual, summer classes, new student Connection Days, admission information sessions, campaign appointments, planning sessions, research and other scholarly activities keep us busy over the summer. Our south campus is well on the way to transformation, and our facilities staff is busy with the usual summer projects. Still, I hope that these final weeks of the summer before mid-August bring relaxation and precious family time as well as opportunity for productive work.
There is, as always, much to report. There is also now an exciting new website. Please be patient as the marketing team and our external vendors tweak and twist it during these first weeks. Please also take time to explore with pride. A good start would be to check out the articles on the Holleran gift, the Blessing exhibit, and our new "Yellow Ribbon" program for returning veterans, among many other features.
We will officially welcome new people and celebrate promotions and other honors at our August State of the University gathering. But let me note here that we are fortunate to have some excellent new leadership coming from familiar faces. Congratulations to Sharon Neal (Library) and Dwayne Walker (Admissions) on their new responsibilities as directors; to Dave Stuart for becoming Associate Director of Residence Life and Director of Community Standards; to Kim Stoudt, our new Athletic Training Program Director; and to Laura Gingrich, who is our first Head Coach of the new Men's and Women's Track and Field Program.
In addition to the faculty and staff positions already filled, a few important searches continue. Searches for the directors of Marketing/Communication and Health Services are progressing well, with the expectation that new directors will join us by summer's end. Three final candidates for the position of Associate Vice President of Adult Education and Dean of Graduate Studies will have completed campus visits by next week. (This new position replaces two former positions.)
You may recall that, in a few other cases, two existing positions have been combined into a single position or administrative positions have been left open, with capable staff serving in interim capacities or dividing the responsibilities. Joining us in a new combined position as University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry is Fr. Kevin Queally. Christine Saadi, Associate Director of Student Financial Planning, has assumed the duties of Interim Director. Vice President Joe Cicala, assisted by capable staff, will cover the Dean of Student's duties. Joe has also agreed to serve the important role as Alvernia's Title IX Coordinator, advising the University community of policies and procedures related to federal legislation guiding gender equity in higher education.
"People and Places" came together in a fortuitous way back in May, when rainy weather and the Alvernia Baseball Team's success brought the Freedom Conference Championship game to our new Angelica Ball Park. Amidst great excitement and fan support, our baseball team celebrated its first (and last!) Freedom Conference championship. Congratulations to Coach Yogi Lutz and his gang. After only one year, our athletic teams are now in the Commonwealth Conference, the other subdivision of the MASCAC. Senior Brian Longo, an Elementary Ed/Special Education major and a relief pitcher for the baseball team, has been named President of the conference's Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) for a second year. This is a tribute to Brian and Alvernia since his service spans our first two years in a new conference. And speaking of people, do drop by the PEC and welcome Bill Stiles, our new athletic director!
The South Campus Project to build the Village Apartments, turf field and track, and a large new parking lot is scheduled to be completed for student move-in day. Challenging issues with campus water lines have complicated construction of the access road connecting main campus with the new 240-space parking lot. Work will continue right up to "opening weekend," with limited parking around Francis Hall and last-minute landscaping touches.
"Green Update": All rock excavated in conjunction with the South Campus Project was recycled into stone and gravel for use in the new parking lot and access road. Processing rock onsite and reusing it is a key element of Alvernia's Green Construction Guidelines. The new sidewalk and related landscaping along Adams Street out to Greenway Terrace is proceeding well, and restoration has begun on many of the grass areas that were used for parking this past year.
Construction projects can be viewed at S:\Construction_Projects <file:///C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\schroka\SHARED\Construction_Projects> .
As is customary, this newsletter is an opportunity to report on the quarterly meeting of our Board of Trustees.
Trustees now devote their June meeting to a two-day workshop on strategic issues. This year's theme, "Mission, Identity, and Educational Quality," featured a presentation by a nationally known Franciscan scholar on the "theory and practice" of Franciscan education, sessions led by trustees on the Board's responsibility for mission and educational quality, and briefings by senior staff on accreditation and assessment. The Board also heard a report on the mission discussions from this past spring and on the formation of the new Franciscan Learning Community, several of whom joined trustees for lunch. The highlight was a wonderful faculty panel featuring Professors Carrie Fitzpatrick, Ed Hartung, Elizabeth Matteo, and Jodi Radosh, who shared their work on "high impact educational practices." (The Board also appreciated copies of the Honors Convocation program containing a listing of faculty scholarship and professional activity.)
By far the most important action item at the Board's business meeting was unanimous approval of the proposed changes to the Faculty Handbook, along with passage of a resolution praising the faculty and administration, especially the members of the Rank and Tenure Committee, for excellent work. The Board also completed the annual process of presidential evaluation and endorsed a preliminary budget for next year, with particular praise for the contingency planning to protect the university against revenue shortfalls and other effects of the bad economy. Trustees also re-elected Kathy Herbein ‘95, and Al Weber as Board officers, welcomed Judy Schwank and Carl Staples as new trustees, and paid tribute to two dedicated trustees whose terms of service ended this June—Glenn Miller and Dick Tschiderer.
You will recall that, as the economic situation worsened last year, numerous contingencies were developed to ensure sound fiscal viability. Strong enrollment in the spring and many good efforts across campus to control expenses successfully offset revenue shortfalls from the fall and overspending in a few areas. We met our overall budget goals, including the addition of modest (and essential) cash reserves. Our budget planning for 2009-10 has been generally conservative, we have protected current staff and faculty positions, and we begin the year well positioned to respond to any shortfalls in revenue. Our next important milestone will be the late September review of our performance regarding enrollment goals.
The University Life and Enrollment Management staffs have been busy with summer sessions for new undergraduates and for transfers. Faculty and staff are essential to this team effort. Thanks to the many who help make these successful.
As you may recall, a year ago we were well on our way to a record number (385) of new freshmen, but running well behind in returning students. This year, the situation is reversed: we are running ahead of goal on returning students but behind on new freshmen. There were notable renewed efforts to improve retention during last year-in the academic, student life, and enrollment areas. It is too early to celebrate improved retention, but the signs are promising.
In retrospect, given the volatile economy, we probably were too optimistic in our goal-setting for new freshmen. The enrollment team has expanded the applicant pool and attracted large numbers of students for campus visits, but our yield of confirmed attendees is lower than projected. Still, with over 330 new freshmen, we are likely to enroll the second highest number in our history, with a continually improving academic profile. The pool of transfer students is looking strong, and there are accelerated efforts to expand transfer recruitment and articulation agreements with area community colleges.
After a strong performance in Fall '08, enrollments in Graduate and Continuing Studies have declined in 2009, including both spring and now summer and fall (projections). This is a cause for concern. While the new master's in nursing is off to a fast start, the on-line MBA did not attract students as expected. A range of new enrollment initiatives are being put in place. But as always, in the fast-paced, rapidly changing environment of adult education, new markets and program initiatives will be critical to success.
Well, the biggest news flash is that our major source of information has a new look and much else new too! The Alvernia University website is up and running.
The new site brings a much cleaner, more energetic look with higher technical functionality. While the vast majority of the website's content was simply reformatted and transferred from the old site to the new, there have been significant structural improvements in addition to the more pleasing graphical appearance. The site's architecture will allow for greater ease in updating and improving the site. Please take advantage of the numerous training sessions on the content management software. Unlike print publications, the web requires vigilance to remain current. This is a shared responsibility of all of us.
Special thanks go out to the marketing team—Carrie Dittman, Jen Richter, Michele Spotts, Carey Manzolillo and Amy Sikorski—for their hard work, including some late night sessions prior to the launch.
Something for the new website: With good work by Rose Chinni, and colleagues on the Honors and Awards Committee, Alvernia has received a charter for membership in the Delta Epsilon Sigma Honor Society, with our chapter designated as Epsilon Gamma. This honor society is the major National Scholastic Honor Society for students, faculty, and alumni of Catholic colleges and universities.
With strong partnerships between University Life, Finance and Administration, and the Student Government Association, two new ventures will enhance student life this fall: the USA Today Collegiate Readership Program, successfully piloted last spring by the University Life Division; and an improved residential laundry service, featuring all new energy and water efficient equipment and the elimination of costs to individual users.
Immediately after graduation, five students participated in the Reading Alternative Break trip, sponsored by the Holleran Center. Led by Catie Bougie, they lived and worked out of Holy Cross United Methodist Church in downtown Reading and served at local organizations such as Centro Hispano, Opportunity House, Kennedy House food bank and the Historical Society. Alternative breaks foster servant- leadership skills and commitment to service in our students.
The Holleran Center co-sponsored a Radio Disney event at the Goggleworks Neighborhood Appreciation picnic on Saturday, June 20th. Hundreds of local neighborhood children read books with City of Reading police, danced to DJ Mickey from Radio Disney, and explored the arts community as volunteers from the PA Retired Education Association, the Cops N Kids literacy program, and Alvernia helped out.
What do the Gettysburg battlefield, the Central PA African American Museum, and the Liberty Bell have in common? All were day trips sponsored recently by the South Reading Youth Initiative as part of its "History Lives" Creativity Camp. Twenty-six middle school students participated in this annual two week camp at Alvernia, led by Elizabeth Matteo and supported by Jessica Umbenhauer and Catie Bougie.
Alvernia's position as a leader in community engagement has been strengthened by some exciting developments involving the Alvernia Montessori School and the Seniors College and the acquisition of Leadership Berks. With the Montessori School's move from West Reading to St. Anthony of Padua parish school in Millmont, we look forward to having this special school once again close to campus, under the leadership of Shirley Williams and the continued direction of Sr. Ann Marie Cole. Please welcome Ann Marie, her colleagues--Sr. Philip Ann, Sr. LeRoy, Sr. Michael Ann and Mrs. Ouchis--and these youngest Alvernia students back to our growing campus.
As of July 1, both the Seniors College and Leadership Berks will become important components of the School of Graduate and Continuing Studies. Both of these moves come after almost of year of planning, coordinated by Mike Pressimone.
The future of the Seniors College was studied by a strategic planning group made up of seniors, members of the community, and program faculty-with additional input from Scott Ballantyne's fall 2008 MBA class. There was strong consensus that it be housed in an academic division to better address its educational needs and anticipated growth to a year-around program. Alvernia was approached by Leadership Berks' board and encouraged by them and key community leaders to consider an acquisition. Leadership Berks has a successful tradition stretching over two decades of programs that prepare graduates to understand community issues and to apply board governance, leadership, and team building skills at work and in the community. The program fits perfectly with our mission and our emphases on leadership education and civic engagement. It also accelerates recent efforts to sponsor non-degree programs and certifications to complement our masters and doctoral programs.
Overseeing these efforts will be Joan Lewis who returns from her sabbatical as Dean of Continuing Studies and Director of the Seniors College. Besides expanding our adult degree completion programs and ensuring consistent quality in our entire continuing studies degree programs, Joan will be our lead person on market and program development, with emphasis on developing non-credit and certificate programs. Working with Joan to expand our efforts will be Toni Eckert, Director of Leadership Berks and Business Outreach, and Sally Reading who will continue her valuable service for the Seniors College.
The Seniors' College program founder and long-time director, Rabbi Alan Weitzman, will continue in the Institutional Advancement division as a special liaison to the Seniors College, with responsibility for building philanthropic relationships with students and alumni. This important activity was conceived originally as a potential outcome of the program, and the timing is right to make this a strong emphasis. One can not underestimate the contribution Rabbi Weitzman has made in helping launch and sustain the Seniors College and in making it such a vibrant and enriching part of Alvernia University...and the surrounding area.
Speaking of Alan, the 2009 Rabbi Weitzman award was awarded recently to Steve Elmarzouky at an overflow event in the Bernardine Conference Center. Steve is the owner of Queen City Restaurant, Wyomissing Family Restaurant, and Heidelberg Family Restaurant. A volunteer teacher for the Seniors College, Steve is founder and president of the Islamic Center of Reading, a police chaplain for the Reading Police Department, and a volunteer clergyman for the Berks County Prison. In his acceptance remarks, Steve praised Alvernia's Franciscan mission and expressed appreciation for our inclusive spirit and recent interfaith efforts.
Let me highlight key events opening the new academic year:
The first of several campus-wide events is our annual Mission Day, Monday, August 17th, at the Bernardine Franciscan Conference Center, beginning at 8:00, hosted by the Franciscan Learning Community. The theme is "Telling Our Story: The Franciscan Core Values." The morning will conclude with lunch and the kick-off of our annual United Way campaign. The annual State of the University Day, Tuesday, August 18th, begins at 8:30 A.M. with breakfast in the student dining room, with the program in the FH Auditorium. All faculty and staff are encouraged to attend both events.
The New Student Convocation (Thursday, August 20th at 1:30 p.m.) begins orientation; the Mass of the Holy Spirit (Thursday, August 27th at 2:00 p.m.) marks the end of orientation and the beginning of the academic year. As with the baccalaureate liturgy, faculty and administrators are asked to join the academic procession for both events and invited to participate in the liturgy in whatever way they are comfortable.
The recent passing of Phyllis Hay was a sad milestone for many of us. But the uplifting celebration of her life, attended by a dozen faculty and staff and several alumnae, was a reminder both of the bonds of community at Alvernia . . . and the potential ways that faculty touch the lives of their students. Several of us from the Alvernia contingent spoke during the service along with friends and members of her family, with the sharing of much laughter as well as poignant memories. Her son and daughter spoke movingly about what Alvernia meant to Phyllis and of her pride in the development and accomplishments of the institution she joined many years ago. And several of her former students spoke simply and compellingly of how she had changed their lives. A campus memorial service will be held in early fall.
Attending this service, and reflecting on the year ahead, made me think that we should take every opportunity--and perhaps also create a few--to remember that it should be all about our students! New residence halls, new academic programs, a new track and field, additional faculty positions, expanded technology, new roadways or walkways, improvements large and small serve the goal of student growth and development in and beyond the classroom. In the words of emeritus trustee, Jerry Holleran, students are "why we do what we do!"
I take no risk in predicting the year ahead will be exciting and that, whatever the impact of a turbulent economy, we have reason to be optimistic about Alvernia's future. As the grim facts of the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remind us, we live in challenging times. Yet whatever the challenges facing us as Americans or Alvernians, we are fortunate in our good work and good colleagues. Our students, whatever their backgrounds and abilities, deserve our best effort and unequivocal commitment.
We are fortunate to find worthy inspiration in those long-ago Bernardine Sisters who founded Alvernia and in those like this year's honorees, Sisters Florence and Pacelli, whose presence continues this living witness. As we recall with pride and pleasure our anniversary year, let us pledge to reflect seriously in the year ahead on our living heritage of Franciscan values so that we might live them and embody them to our students.
Enjoy the summer. Look forward to seeing you all at our campus-wide August events.
Peace and All Good, Tom Flynn